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4th grade teacher, Kathy Baucus, at Poplar Elementary in Fontana, Calif., instructed her students to create biographies and write poems about who their heroes are. Some wrote of their parents or the people who raised them. Others wrote of celebrities who are living a wealthy and famous life. But most of the children wrote of a Marine who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was a friend to the school. He was also Kathy Baucus’ husband.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya

What is a Hero?

10 May 2013 | Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya

4th grade teacher, Kathy Baucus, at Poplar Elementary in Fontana, Calif., instructed her students to create biographies and write poems about who their heroes are. Some wrote of their parents or the people who raised them. Others wrote of celebrities who are living a wealthy and famous life. But most of the children wrote of a Marine who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was a friend to the school. He was also Kathy Baucus’ husband.

 

How are they defined?

Does a hero give a person a sense of guidance in life or inspiration like the way a young athlete looks at their favorite player?

How big of an impact do they have to make in the world?

Does the hero have to be the strongest, fastest, or the bravest?

Kathy Baucus asked these questions to her 4th grade class. She asked them to write what defines a hero. She asked them to choose their hero. Kathy chose her father, someone who has always been there for her she said. He was there for her when her husband took her to prom. He was there for her when her husband joined the Marine Corps. He was there for her when her husband deployed to Iraq. He was there for her when her husband died on a mission.

Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus died serving his country while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. Besides being Gung Ho about the Corps, Baucus also enjoyed spending time at Poplar Elementary School. To honor him, they planted a tree. It was something that would grow and sink deep roots into school grounds and always give shade to the children. Something to watch over them. Something like a hero.

 

The Hero, the Protector, the Defender

Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus was 24 when he joined the Marine Corps in September 2002. He enjoyed his job, he enjoyed being around Marines. His job was a scout for a Light Armored Vehicle. The LAV 25 is a 13 ton, six-wheeled armored vehicle with a M242 Bushmaster 25 mm chain gun. And when the vehicle can’t traverse the terrain, the scouts are called.

Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions are mobilized units that conduct reconnaissance missions ahead of battalion landing teams or infantry forces. They gather intelligence about the size, location, strengths or any other requested information about the enemy. There are three crewmen aboard LAVs and anywhere from two to four scouts. The crewmen are mainly in charge of the LAV while scouts can dismount the vehicle and do further reconnaissance.

Baucus was attached to 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion aboard the Combat Center. Baucus deployed to Iraq in 2004 and then deployed again in 2006 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In July of 2006, Baucus was manning a roadside checkpoint and stopped a truck that contained an IED. The truck exploded killing Baucus and another Marine manning the checkpoint. It caused a nearby shelter to collapse housing other Marines, but since it was stopped beforehand, it caused less damage and saved many Marine lives.

He received a Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor for his actions.

Some would call that heroic.

 

Remembering the Fallen

The Marines with 3rd LAR have regularly visited Kathy and the Poplar school children since 2006. The Marines painted murals of an American flag and Poplar kids playing sports on walls around the school. The Marines also participated in community clean up, decorated benches, and even planted a garden.

 “It makes me happy to see the Marines and children interacting,” Kathy said. “Nothing is better than seeing a Marine walking on a field with tons of kids behind him waiting to play. Children need a role model in life; they need a person to get them going in the right direction.”

A statue of a Kevlar helmet, boots and a rifle were constructed under a tree that was planted by 3rd LAR in 2010 in honor of Baucus.

“(Baucus) loved coming to the school and taking the kids outside to read or play with them,” Kathy said. “He was very involved in my classroom and now his unit is too. The Marines are family to me and the children love when they come to visit. The fact the Marines come out and speak to children makes a world of difference. The children get bored with seeing teachers and parents all day so when an outside source comes in, they are all about it. Especially when it is someone like a Marine.”

During a rededication for the memorial, Kathy’s class read their version of a hero. The ceremony also honored local heroes. The heroes the children chose around the community varied from military veterans and police officers to the parents and teachers who are involved with the school every day. The children sang a song for the heroes and took pictures next to the tree and statue. The children also spent time with the heroes they invited after the ceremony.

 “The children don’t only need a person to look up to, they are looking for that person,” said Kathy. “When the Marines come, the children follow their every move.”

“Heroes don’t have to be Superman,” said Francisco, one of Kathy’s 4th grade students. “They just have to want to help and change other people.”

 

Kids’ Perspective

The school children’s assignment for the rededication ceremony was to explain what a hero was to them. They wrote poems about who their heroes are. The following are excerpts from their poems:

A hero to me is some who is brave and bold. They are also nice to everybody. It feels good to talk to Marines. It is awesome when we get to play with them. They helped us do the community clean up. I got to work on the garden with them. The Marines tell us it is hard and complicated to do their job. They always tell us to pay attention in school so we can be good at our jobs like they are. All of the Marines are heroes to us. It doesn’t have to be just one. – Francisco, 10

A hero is someone who encourages you to do the right thing. They also are someone who wants to help you with anything you need help with. My hero would be Cpl. Phillip Baucus. He stopped a truck to save all of his friends. It is so much when they visit us. It feels good to spend time with heroic people who help our country. They talk about how it feels to be a Marine. They also tell me stories about when they were in a different country. The Marines tell me their job is complicated but it is a lot of fun at the same time. – Abel, 10

A hero is somebody who helps everybody, not just one person. He also encourages everyone to do the right thing. My dad is my hero because he shows me right from wrong. He is the one who I look up to everyday. I get really happy when Marines come to visit. It makes me very proud. I love painting and I got to paint the walls with some of the countries heroes. – Emily, 10

A hero is someone who inspires you to do what they are doing or to make you better at what you want to do. My hero is my mom. She helps me with everything and inspires me to do better. They save lives here and in other countries. Of course I would be happy when they come play with us. I get to play with them and paint with them. They talk about how they love their families too. All of the Marines are heroes to us. It doesn’t have to be just one. – Erika, 9

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Her Hero

“A hero to me is somebody who touches a person’s life,” said Kathy. “It can be anybody who makes a change directly or indirectly.”

Baucus’ parents owned a ranch and when Kathy was in elementary school her class would sometimes take field trips there to see the baby lambs. Kathy never saw Baucus at the ranch, but she knew he lived there. Kathy met Baucus in 6th grade while taking orchestra classes. She played viola and he played violin for a little while and then switched to bass.

Years later, they would go to prom together.

After they got married, she got a job teaching at Poplar Elementary and Baucus would visit the school where he would play and talk with the school children. An avid listener was a quality that attracted Kathy to her husband.

“My husband listened to what people had to say,” said Kathy. “He was the rational one, no matter what was going on, he would sit down and listen. He would love the fact the tree planted in his honor will provide shade for the children. He would always take the children out to a shaded area to read to them or listen to them read.”

Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus didn’t set out to be a hero. To his wife, he was her husband. To his friends he was a Marine. To the school children, he was a friend.

“He wouldn’t want the children to look up to him as a hero,” said Kathy. “He was a very humble guy.”

Most heroes are.
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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms